‘Blue Demon’ and the evolution of the shark movie
From the shockingly unwatchable to ridiculously good, the Sharkometer series dissects every shark movie according to the GOAT Jaws.
Blue Demon by Daniel Grodnik, 2004
Starring Dedee Pfeiffer, Randall Batinkoff, Danny Woodburn, Josh Hammond, Christine Lakin, Jeff Fahey
Budget: $650,000 (estimated)
Box office: $650,000 (estimated)
(one of these numbers is definitely wrong.)
Number of times previously watched: 0
Contrary to popular opinion (jk, no one cares), before starting the Sharkometer series, I hadn’t actually watched a lot of shark movies. It’s due to a mix between being an Old Millennial and coming of age during a time of few shark movies, and also not wanting to watch a lot of garbage.
As we’ve discussed and will discuss in WAY greater detail below, post-Deep Blue Sea saw a huge boom in shark movies that mostly watered down the genre, bloating it with milquetoast offerings. Put a shark in it, kill some people, people will watch it (not wrong). Add more sharks, or shark mutations or weird settings, kill some people and people will watch it (still not wrong).
Rinse, repeat. Which brings us to Blue Demon.
Remember when I said people who trash movies to be edgy (re: boring and mean) tend to disregard what’s actually happening? Well, this is not one of those times.
Blue Demon is the worst shark movie I have ever seen (and by now I’ve seen, what some would say are too many shark movies). Blue Demon is part of this forgettable post-Deep Blue Sea glut that is frankly, quite mind numbing to comprehend let alone watch.
Don’t believe me? Chew on this plot: Near-to-divorced scientists Dr. Nathan Collins and Dr. Marla Collins conduct a military science project named “The Blue Demon Project” that genetically engineered Great White sharks capable of living in salt and freshwater and trained them via electroshock transmitters to recognize specific targets in order to defend America’s coastline. The sharks escape the compound, start attacking beachgoers and resisting their microchips to which Dr. Nathan Collins and his probable terrorist organization ties (?) are blamed while it is actually corrupt military leader General Remora usurping the project via a shadow program (?) in order to weaponize alpha shark Red Dog (?) with an old suitcase plutonium bomb from Russia (?) to increase America’s national security and destroy terrorists. (???)
It’s… real dicey. And I didn’t even mention the other sharks are called the Sharks Brothers named after the Marx Brothers.
Come, walk with me down the turbulent path of one of the worst shark movies I have ever seen in my life. We do a lot of work upfront, but keep it tight for the rest. Let’s put Blue Demon through the Sharkometer.
The tragic failings of ‘Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy’
Look forward to my making of special “Dreaming of the beef: The misguided production of ‘Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy’”
Divine Intervention: The Evolution of the Shark Movie
The biggest question I had after watching Blue Demon was “why was this even made?” It is shockingly mediocre. A real stinker. Big old snoozefest. Lifeless slog. Bland potatoes… You get it.
It’s weird, but not in a particularly thoughtful way. The actors seem committed though not convincing. It’s more a mishmash of disjointed plots, repetitive CGI, and slow-moving sharks. It’s, as Zac Efron would say, not tight.
So, why bother making it at all when you know it just isn’t that great? When it’s going to be direct-to-video niche content? When it’s going to have zero impact. Well, that’s a Big Question with a Big Answer, so buckle up.
The origins of the shark movie can most likely be traced back to 1933’s Tiger Shark, an early pre-code film directed by Howard Hawks that can be aptly summed up as a one-handed tuna fisherman marries a woman who doesn’t love him, and 1936’s White Death, an Australian film that sees the rather dickish Zane Grey set out to catch the titular White Death, a shark terrorizing the Queensland coast, to prove he can catch the biggest fish or whatever.
Tiger Shark appears to use real sharks, though hopefully not real sharks, in some moments we would definitely now categorize as animal cruelty, and after trouble finding real Great White sharks, White Death relied upon a fake shark made of wood and canvas. *swoon*
In the 1950s, a few more shark films entered the canon like Killer Shark (1950), The Sharkfighters (1956) and She Gods of Shark Reef (1958), which most likely served as a nice Hawaiian vacation for director Roger Corman more than anything. The two most successful shark movies of this pre-Jaws era are probably Blue Water, White Death (1971), a ground-breaking documentary that documented the first real Great Whites on film, and Shark! (1969), starring Burt Reynolds, most famous for a real shark attack stuntmen fatality documented on-camera and then horrifically sold to Life Magazine to advertise the movie. Again, not tight.
These early iterations didn’t do much to fuel the creature feature genre, which at the time was more interested in exploring unnatural monsters and human-to-animal beasts, until Jaws (1975). Now before you can roll your eyes and say “duh” the legend of Jaws is obviously well documented. *gestures to the entire Sharkometer series*
No one wanted to make it. It was plagued with feuding actors, filming problems and a problematic mechanical shark and it still redefined and reignited the entire creature feature genre, kicking off a wave of shark movies and becoming the all-inspiring shark den mother for time immemorial.
The first wave of post-Jaws shark films sought to capitalize on the popularity of Jaws and not necessarily ape it entirely (strong emphasis on necessarily). Most notable were Sharks’ Treasure (1975) and Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976). Sharks’ Treasure was allegedly conceived of in 1969 by director Cornel Wilde, but could only be made after the popularity of Jaws. The film is less killer shark-centric, instead following a crew of “hard-luck dreamers’’ seeking treasure, and it features a ton of underwater footage of real sharks. Wilde was, shall we say, bitter that Spielberg’s masterpiece got to define the genre instead of Sharks’ Treasure, allegedly stating “I would rather have had the field to ourselves, without Jaws.”
Mako kicked off my favourite subgenre of shark movie, “shark movies not actually depicting the shark they’re about” with a real live Tiger shark standing in for the Mako. It too was also allegedly conceived of before Jaws and could only get financing post-Jaws, but director William Grefé seems slightly less bitter, only taking a couple Jaws cheap shots in the trailer. Mako stands out because it took a distinct 180 from Jaws depicting the humans as evil and sharks as sympathetic and also…mystically connected to the protagonist via medallion from a shaman.
Next came a proliferation of Mexican sharksploitation films that had questionable shark filming ethics and usually bordered on softcore porn a lot of the time. There was the Ramon Bravo-inspired Tintorera (1977), the disturbing cannibalistic venture Cyclone (1978) and the mystery horror Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks (1978) among others. These films are decidedly more Jaws inspired, but still added their own flavour with real sharks and real boobies.
Parallel to these shark films were the onslaught of creatures features that too tried to capitalize on the reignited genre by either aping or satirizing Jaws with a new animal to varying degrees of success. There was Grizzly (1976), Orca (1977), Barracuda (1977), Tentacles (1977) and the Spielberg-approved Piranha (1978) to name a few. While most of the lot were seen as cash grabs with success potentially coming in the form of cult status years later, Piranha’s unique satirical take delighted audiences, created a franchise and some say launched the career of Joe Dante.
The second wave of shark films saw the return of the contractually obligated Roy Scheider in his final franchise appearance in Jaws 2 (1978) and additional sequels Jaws 3-D in (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge in (1987) as well as a slew of Italian sharksploitation films. This wave saw films return to using mechanical (or puppet) creatures with decidedly less success or relying heavily on splicing in inorganic stock footage of real sharks.
While the Jaws sequels attempted to expand the franchise, digging deeper into the characters of the Brody children and Ellen Brody — and at points even revising Jaws history to kill off Brody due to fear — the Italian movies decided to straight up rip off the original with films like the sued-for-plagiarism Great White (1981), Monster Shark (1984), Night of the Sharks (1988 )and Deep Blood (1989). Special shout out to Zombi 2 (1979), which included the infamous Zombie vs Shark underwater shark attack scene featuring Ramon Bravo as stunt Zombie against an unfortunately very drugged tiger shark.
These lacklustre offerings (don’t @ me about Jaws: The Revenge being good) saw the shark movie mostly peter out during the 1990s, with only tepid contributions like the direct-to-video Cruel Jaws (1995 )and the actually-made-in-the-1970s-but-recut-with-a-shark Bollywood film Aatank (1996), until 1999.
Enter Deep Blue Sea (1999). I can’t overstate how important Deep Blue Sea is to the shark canon. Despite literal decades of shark movies, followed by the aforementioned dearth of shark movies in the 1990s, there really hadn’t been a good shark movie since Jaws 2 or Jaws 4, if ya nasty. Bursting into theatres like a shark after Samuel L. Jackson, Renny Harlin’s attempt to achieve a blockbuster horror movie the likes of Jurassic Park and The Exorcist whet the appetite of shark-starved shark enthusiasts, Old Millennials and a bunch of new converts.
More importantly, it was blood in the water to movie executives who saw the second coming of the shark genre right before their eyes, this time with a twist. Shark movies spawned from Deep Blue Sea became less naturalistic thrillers and more human disaster/earth revenge flicks that ratcheted up the tension, the sharks and the sheer amount of movies being made.
The post-Deep Blue Sea era can be categorized into three sections give or take an outlier: (1) higher budget made-for-TV movies like Red Water for TBS (2003), Spring Break Shark Attack for CBS (2005 )and Malibu Shark Attack (2009) for SYFY; (2) pre-Sharknado SYFY and SYFY-adjacent cheapos like Shark Attack (1999), Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005), Psycho Shark (2009) and Sharktopus (2010), and (3) high-concept movies like Open Water (2003), The Reef (2010), Shark Night: 3D (2011) and Bait: 3D (2012).
Blue Demon fits in the second category, though much like Shark in Venice (2008) and 12 Days of Terror (2004), I feel like it was hoping to slide into the third or even settle for the first.
This post-Deep Blue Sea era was a true explosion of shark stories. We got straight up knockoffs, sharks on sharks on sharks, shark fetish genres (hello, Megalodon), genuine attempts at creature feature throwbacks and stripped down, less excessive realism.
What’s probably the most interesting thing about this era to me is it’s really the beginning of trash fetishized as good or the spawning of the “so bad it’s good” shark movie. People had certainly aired these feelings before, but the relentless releases, and onset of the Internet as we now know it, primed people towards these movies, thus creating a never-ending market where films like Blue Demon could be made, gain a cult following and even make some money. Every new entry had a built-in audience and, through forums and blogs, a mechanism for discussion and promotion.
This cleared the way for the sharkpocalypse in 2013 with Sharknado. As we’ve discussed, Sharknado was a moment. Much like post-Jaws shark movies, post-Deep Blue Sea movies were mainly watched by shark movie fans, until Sharknado, which everyone watched. To have this dumpster fire of a movie convince a legion of non-shark movie watchers that it was A Thing and An Important Shark Movie, is truly something. However, Sharknado’s film influence remains largely on itself, spawning an enormous franchise and reimagining shark movie history to believe the pre-2013 shark movie onslaught happened post-Sharknado, and becoming the harbinger of doom for the shark world. Sharknado catalyzed another deep rejection of the shark movie genre, which…fair, and created a dissonance between shark movie lovers and the shark movie makers who reject them.
This “No, it’s not a shark movie” wave is epitomized by two movies: The Shallows (2016) and 47 Meters Down (2017). The Shallows ripped one from the Jaws playbook, making the premise simple — man vs. shark, or in this case woman vs. shark — and then threw the rest of the playbook away. Director Jaume Collet-Serra dubbed his vision a survival movie, not a shark movie, allowing any other themes to be that of your making. Its stripped down style mixed with visionary directing and a stellar performance by new Final Girl Blake Lively was exciting, pushing the shark genre back to something respectable, not just the “so bad it’s good” territory it had long occupied. 47 Meter Down director Johannes Roberts initially took things a step further, vehemently, and rather dickishly, defending his movie as a diver movie, not a shark movie, but seems to have backed off that stance now with 47 Meter Down: Uncaged (2019) and a potential third installment on the way.
Shark movies are now in fraught, if not familiar, territory. Both The Shallows and 47 Meters Down brought in huge box office numbers along with The Meg (2018), which saw the return of the big budget blockbuster shark movie, though with less to cheer about and a decidedly much smaller impact than predecessors like Deep Blue Sea or Jaws. The usual cycle of franchises with diminishing returns and lacklustre iterations has kicked up, coupled with the resurgence of TV movies, this time from the Discovery Channel launching its first movie for Shark Week in 2019 that they swear doesn’t feed into the myths about sharks even though it’s called Capsized: Blood in the Water.
It’s not clear where shark movies will go. All signs point to another downturn with the likes of Shark Horror (2020) and Great White (2021) seeking only to cash in on another movie’s success. Also apparently the much-awaited release of Tommy Wiseau’s sophomore effort Big Shark is happening, so there’s that.
But maybe, hopefully I’m wrong. I’d like to see shark movies keep it simple (no bloated plots!), reconsider who the villain is (spoiler alert: it’s not the shark), tap into some different sharks — I mean, Michael Cole’s Thresher: A Deep Sea Thriller is just sitting here — and, as always, put some respect on it. Shark movies are good, dammit!
Divine Intervention rating: 1/1 waterfalls (this took me a long time to write.)
The undeniable greatness of ‘Deep Blue Sea’
Who is Jesus in this movie? There’s about five different options.
Hitchcockian Flare: Damn the man!
Unclear. There’s a real lack of information online about Blue Demon and its writer/director/producer Daniel Grodnik, which leads to a real guessing game about what is actually going on because it ain’t clear in the movie.
I think it may be anti-military or maybe anti-government? Probably anti-terrorist. To be fair, even after rewriting the plot description multiple times, I’m still unsure what this movie is totally about. Lotta moving parts.
There’s potentially an attempt to discuss fear, particularly fear of science and loss of control, similar to Deep Blue Sea, but I gotta say a shark with a suitcase bomb in its mouth ain’t a realistic fear to tap into or create a metaphor out of.
Hitchcockian Flare rating: 2/10 gold medals
‘Shark Night 3D’ and the joy of fear
Is it cliche to study fear in the times of Corona? *Shrugs* What is fear anyway.
Filmin’: Made in America
First off: I am truly shocked this movie is not filmed in Canada. I say that as a Canadian who has watched a lot of Canadian-made productions.
Second: while I’m glad there is not an over-reliance on Jaws homages, nothing in this movie really stands out. It feels very much like someone got a camera, did a point and shoot and then strung it together to make a movie.
Maybe it’s low budget; maybe it’s just not good.
Filmin’ rating: 1/4 video cameras
‘Bait 3D’ and the case for mediocrity
We can’t always be special, but we can be sort of great. Dust off those participation badges and discuss Bait 3D.
Editing: Your movie, your choice
This movie… made… some choices.
First, the choice to overlay zany semi-porn-movie-sounding music that totally kills any form of tension, suspense or danger. Case in point, when Dr. Marla Collins breaks out Dr. Nathan Collins from military jail after he’s been deemed a terrorist threat and their getaway is more a kooky caper of shenanigans than, you know, actually escaping military imprisonment.
Second, the choice to use the same CGI cut of the sharks — again named after the Marx brothers, dubbed the Sharks brothers, and, inexplicably Red Dog — over and over again before someone is attacked. Nothing says high stakes like the same scene repeated endlessly.
Third, the choice to include a harlequin romance cut scene in the middle of the movie to ratchet up the tension with some virginal teen courting.
There are so many more questionable choices that this movie made, like say, oh the entire movie taking place in a flashback, but all the choices culminate into this: the entire movie is available on YouTube in nine-part sections. Enjoy.
Mother Cutter rating: 0.2/2 scissors
‘Red Water’ and the trappings of a shark movie
If you put a shark in a movie does it instantly become a shark movie?
Good Humour: My wife!
There are definitely jokes in this movie, and surprisingly not all at Danny Woodburn’s expense, though a few are and they are abhorrent, which somehow still feels like a win for early 2000s comedy.
There are however also mostly the same jokes that asshole dads make on Facebook about their nagging wife, to which I say: ya, you should probably get divorced.
Good humour rating: 1.5/5 popsicles
Lack of CGI: No.
Guys, I can’t anymore.
Did I love the cardboard fins? Yes.
Did I hate the repetitive, horrible CGI? Double yes.
Did I laugh hysterically at the shark with the suitcase bomb in its mouth? Absolutely.
Please don’t watch this movie.
No CGIs allowed rating: 0.5/3 mechanical shark fins
‘47 Meters Down’ knows your darkest fears
Come expecting campy fun, leave haunted by your deepest fears and a mind-blowing ending.
WILDCARD: Killing me slowly
The sharks! *big hand movements* They are so slow!
The disparity between how fucking slow these sharks move when someone is just floating in the water near them versus the CGI of them swimming to said lump of flesh (not to mentioned when they leap out of the water to attack someone) is infuriating. It makes no sense! This movie should have been called Slow Sharks: You Won’t Believe How Slow We Move.
Oh here’s a fun easter egg for you courtesy of IMDB trivia: Just as the dad climbs up on the dock after falling into the water, one of the shark fins falls over.
Wildcard rating: 0.15/1 Spielberg head (just chin pubes)
The silent panic of ‘The Shallows’
Silence, silence, ATTACK! Is Blake Lively your new Final Girl? Or is she shark food for a beast with a grudge.
There’s a quote from writer and Bad Romance podcaster Jourdain Searles that people should remember while reading this blog specifically and the series in general: “We’re just as critical as the men, but Bronwyn and I like to come from a place of love. We love romantic films and we want them to be good. We know their power. We know that they take craft. We just want to see more filmmakers make an effort with the genre.”
I feel this way too, especially about often maligned movies like Searles’ romantic comedies or my Sharkometer shark movies. Creature features, and shark movies specifically, are so, so good when done right or at least when they’re trying to do right. And that’s why it’s such a kick in the face when someone, somewhere along the line, decides to produce uninspired trash like Blue Demon.
Thinking about this movie was painful — it’s probably why this blog took so long and why I wrote a 2,000-word detour on the history of shark movies. I’m honestly upset I’ve seen Blue Demon so many times. There are no redeeming qualities to it, including the ability to torch it.
I’d rather touch my eyeball with an unwashed hand than watch Blue Demon. I’d rather watch a Dane Cook comedy special than watch Blue Demon. I’d rather watch The Meg than watch Blue Demon. I’d rather watch a shark movie that tried hard and failed than didn’t try at all.
Next up: The supremely flat ‘Sharktopus’
Roger Corman and the Legend of ‘Sharktopus’
Remember when movies tried to be entertaining?
For a complete list of Shark-o-meter movies, swim here.
References and Recommended Readings
References are hyperlinked or below and some choice additional things that helped shape this piece.
The shark movie history part of this blog took a lot of research, and I doubt I’ve been able to capture all my sources, but I want to thank all the comprehensive lists, weird blogs and books and more for helping me trace the origins of the shark movie and keep the Internet weird and fun! Shout out to these three in particular: Sharks on Film: A Complete History by Paul Bradshaw, Why Shark Movies Are Such Reliable Box Office Bets: A Deep Dive by Brandon Katz, and Sharksploitation movie list by Dave Jackson
Sh*t, Actually by Lindy West
Maintenance Phase podcast by Aubrey Gordan and Michael Hobbes
Why Are Dads? podcast by Sarah Marshall and Alex Steed
I deactivated Instagram. It is nice.
As always, if there’s typos, I don’t care. It’s very hard to write and edit your own work and I tried. Get at me on twitter.